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News & Blogs: 5 Questions

5 Questions with Eric Watson

Monday, April 11, 2011  
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Vice President, Office of Diversity & Inclusion
Delhaize America

"The work for any leader is to create an inclusive environment.”

Eric Watson is responsible for the development and implementation of the diversity and inclusion business strategy for Delhaize America, which comprises the Food Lion Family of Supermarkets (Food Lion, Bloom, Harveys, Reid’s), Bottom Dollar Food, Hannaford Brothers and Sweetbay Supermarkets. He also is responsible for leadership and associate development, measuring progress in the areas of culture and environment, diverse supplier development, minority recruitment and retention, plus education and training. In May 2010, Ron Hodge, CEO of Delhaize America, accepted the Network's Outstanding Champion Award, recognizing diversity leadership in the consumer products and retail industry.

How does a company's leaders best create an environment for diversity and inclusion initiatives to succeed?

Today, even more so than in the past, leadership commitment manifests itself through visible, active participation in an organization’s diversity and inclusion strategy. The need for leaders’ authentic and genuine involvement and obvious showing of commitment  broadly to the organization is critical. Because many organizations are more diverse, either by design or conditions, the work for any leader is to create an inclusive environment. It’s imperative they do their own personal work, and increase their cultural competence by being in different places, doing different things, with different people. Lastly, I would say the measure of success for creating an inclusive environment is determined by associates, not leaders.

How has Delhaize America built a diverse market presence? Why is that important?

We value the diversity of our customer base as it exists in geographically diverse markets. In some banners we have created segmentation strategies to better provide products and services that reflect the diversity of our customers. We have, throughout our history, placed some stores in urban, rural and developing markets. A diverse market presence requires a level of connectivity and strong relationship building with community, civic and local leaders, as well as an associate base reflective of the communities we serve. This helps us achieve what we call our triple bottom line of increased profitability, improved productivity and unsurpassed community leadership. Currently, our most significant effort is our Sabor Latino strategy, which is our effort to embrace the Hispanic/Latino shopper. We’re achieving this through merchandising, cultural competence and talent acquisition.

What advice can you offer others trying to improve diversity recruitment and retention?

It’s imperative the grocery industry recognizes the importance of educating others about the industry. There is not broad knowledge, interest or even awareness of the opportunities in the industry, particularly in diverse communities. I’m a strong believer that recruitment starts as early as elementary and middle school, when young people create interest, passion and affinity to things they enjoy and do well. Unfortunately, and like some other professions, I don’t know [any] kids sitting around saying, "I can’t wait to grow up and run a grocery store.” As an industry, we own sharing the wealth of opportunity in the various jobs that exist in the grocery business. In a specific way, I do think if you’re recruiting real time, it is important to build relationships with historically Black colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions and Native American-serving institutions. Also, minority associations and fraternities that develop at the collegiate level and exist post- graduate and professionally are great partners.

To retain any associate, specifically diverse associates, it’s important to build a culture in which they feel valued. Generational diversity currently offers that challenge; organizations should look for ways to provide affinity and opportunities, through programs such as business resource groups, yet also look at ways to provide development, personal efficacy education, career coaching, mentoring and sponsorship.

How do you measure diversity and inclusion progress?

Our five measures and goals are leadership commitment, business case development, education and development, managing culture and environment and demographics and representation. Over the past six years, we’ve developed various tools to assess our progress. These are tools that would measure individual and organization success,such as "say-do” metrics, accountability and incentives, managers’ diversity and inclusion behavioral continuum, a "How am I doing with inclusion?” scorecard, a cultural competence self-assessment, leaders’ scorecards and a corporate associate engagement survey. Lastly, and possibly more importantly, we have ongoing engagement processes through our Leaders’ Diversity & Inclusion Council, our business resource groups and our community and business partner recognitions. We’re currently developing a new dashboard for measuring diversity and inclusion. The dashboard will measure market share and customer satisfaction of diverse groups, product purchasing patterns, community recognitions, associate engagement, cultural competence, retention, representation, pipeline measurements and accessibility with regard to bilingual proficiency and ease of mobility in our facilities for people with disabilities.

Why is having a diverse supplier base important to your business?

This is critical to providing the right products and services to our diverse customers, as well as providing opportunities for diverse vendors to become part of the broader economic infrastructure of our country. The increased opportunity to have the broad product offerings, a competitive procurement process, lowering costs in our supply chain and adequate pricing strategies are enhanced through a diverse supplier base. The food business, maybe more so than any other industry, truly connects with people in a number of diverse ways, as it relates to culture, ethnicity, needs and services, which are all drastically impacted by who we are and our culture. Offering diverse selections and providing these opportunities enhances our organization’s brand.

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